Chain-Smoking Carnies & Bearded Ladies: A Child’s Party

I am a stickler for details. This is something old history professors found most impressive. Mostly everybody else finds this most obnoxious. If I was penning a paper on the origins of popular euphemisms, for instance, I would latch onto the old adage about beating a dead horse. Then I’d go out robbing equine graves. I’d think “Sorry” really hard in hopes of forgiveness, and (because I am hard-wired to literally keep it real) I’d smack that departed Filly in the face. But what’s wrong with you? I’m not hitting horse babies, fool.  I’ve been too busy planning my kid’s birthday party.

When my sister offered ideas for a carnival-themed bash for my almost three-year-old, I went with it. I went, and I went, and I ran and sprinted and stopped only for short breaks from all the went-ing. No flimsy cardboard clown cutout would do. I would meticulously recreate the carnivals of yore! The air would smell of popcorn and pee! Suspicious child-less men would lurk in dark Fun House corners! Flame throwers! Miserable parents! Terrified children! Overflowing trash cans dotted with funnel cake barf!

But for all my respect of carnival history and dedication to my compulsive craft,  plans slowly began to unravel. My dad refused to start drinking at sunrise. It was necessary for him to be completely sloshed by party’s start if he was to accurately portray the criminally negligent ferris wheel operator. Also I would need a ferris wheel. Horror of horrors, my older sister barely sipped the spiked coffee I offered her. One measly swig of male growth hormone does not a bearded lady make! With nary a whisker on that chin, I abandoned the time-tested creepiness of true carnivals, remembered that my son is only three, and settled with planning a party that kind of, a bit, somewhat resembled a cartoon clip art picture of a carnival.

We headed to Dollar Tree where I was ecstatic to find that everything cost a dollar. I figured this was a special sale so I bought all things red, yellow, blue, striped, polka-dotted, and plastic. Dollar Tree: Where money doesn’t grow on trees… but these kick-ass leopard print place mats sure do. The cashier looked dismayed as I unloaded my second cart. The register spazzed and seizured. I left a little worried that I broke the dollar store for good this time.

A few poster boards, balloons, and yards of scrap ribbon later, Thomas’s birthday carnival was dressed and ready to impress. As I put the finishing touches on the magnetic Pin The Tie on The Thomas board I’d fashioned from cardboard diaper boxes, I couldn’t wait for Thomas’s friends to tell him how cool his mom is for orchestrating such a creative festivity.

Yeah. They’re all pretty much three.

Eyes shot to the giant sweets table. I hoped they were admiring the hand-painted sign and ribbon-wrapped mason jars, but then the drool started. I knew they fawned only for the tower of cupcakes, the crack-laced juice boxes, the candy! The communal toddler response was, “OH SWEET MOTHER PUCKER! ALL ZEE SUGARZZZZZZ!”.

The Hoop Toss (made of hula hoops and streamers) was an idea I found online. The crafty blogger called the game Ring of Fire so clearly she doesn’t appreciate the trauma of childbirth. Also, it occurred to me later that throwing a ball at a hole sounds boring or dirty (Ring of Fire, really?). Either way a little lame. The idea to pin balloons to a board with sharp thumb tacks seemed legit. So as small guests chewed and clawed, sat and stomped in a round of Balloon Pop I was shocked to see things take a prickly turn. More shocking? The amount one little baby butt cheek can bleed. I didn’t assign an adult to the face painting station so within minutes kindergarteners swarmed the bowl of temporary tats. My niece attacked all bystanders, her victims limping from the table sporting face murals the likes of Spiderman, a fairy, an abused cat, etc. My mostly respectable mother walked away with a tribal/ meth head look and a butterfly arm tattoo that would not quit.

After kids were thoroughly hopped up on frosting, they hit the backyard bounce house. I still believe an 80-year-old man swallowing swords while riding a tiger would’ve been cool, but toddlers being naive as they are, a simple inflatable fortress of doom would suffice. Adult guests showed much restraint, allowing kids to have free reign of the jump castle for three whole minutes. Then we hoisted our large selves in and out of tunnels, over walls, and down slides because no one ever said anything about a weight limit… or tact for that matter.

By the end of the afternoon, all quality carnival details were lost on these toddlers, sugar-slapped into a trance. After the prize bags are shelled out, the bloody balloon shrapnel plucked from the grass, the bounce house deflated, the only sign of a party found in crumbs and frosting smeared across floor boards, after all of this it occurs to me that theme doesn’t so much matter. What started as a carnival party turned into anything but. Whatever the color scheme, the sideshow freak shows who did or didn’t attend, the wicked cute posters which kids couldn’t read, the theme for the birthday boy’s day was Fun and Friends and Family. Probably a hint of SUGARZZZ! with a Mayhem twist.

May I remember this lesson next year, when I’m enticed to plan a Quiet Mice party featuring a Benadryl fountain or a Body Slammin’ Babies soiree with Mexican wrestling masks as favors.

Kids just want a cupcake.

It is the grownups who turn a little celebration into a circus.

How does your family celebrate birthdays?

Does anyone know a good contortionist who does kid parties?

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55 thoughts on “Chain-Smoking Carnies & Bearded Ladies: A Child’s Party

  1. If I were your dad, I’d totally start drinking at dawn for you.

    My family does birthdays much more low key; that’s just kind of who we are. Close family, a few presents, whatever the birthday person wants for dinner, and ALWAYS an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen.

    • See, low key birthdays are the way to go. Growing up we got to pick what mom made for dinner or (as we got older) have a few friends over for pizza. Obviously our parents knew better. I got super caried away this year only to realize that the kid mostly just loved eating a cupcake and having all his buddies over to play :)

  2. wow that’s amazing and good for you to doing an at-home party; I’m sick to death of all the expensive commercial parties parents cave into just because they feel the spectacular has to be paid for. Simple is better and that is at home!

    • We’ve done the Chuck E Cheese thing and it was kind of a nightmare. I mean, don’t kids know that 6-foot tall rodent in a baseball cap is HORRIFYING? We had a lot of fun at home… with our dollar store decorations and discount cupcakes. I’m learning that the kids really don’t care what’s going on so long as there are sugar products and other screaming kids to play with :)

  3. Sounds like the party was a success though. Next time you can actually have a Candy themed party! You know, like Charlie and the chocolate factory :D The kids are gonna worship you for sure :)

    The thought of planning a party makes me wanna crawl under a rock so lets not talk about it.

    • Xae, you are brilliant. Wish I would’ve thought about the candy theme before. I definitely already had the supplies for it :) Planning the party was surprisingly fun! I had way too much time on my hands so I did a lot of silly craft projects that toddlers do not notice, but overall it was a pretty fun process!

  4. It looks like the party was a hit! But what really cracks me up is you. Once upon a time you were running screaming from the idea of doing anything crafty. Then you go and throw a very bloggy wedding and now look at you . . . them party planer extraordinaire with homemade games and signage to boot. (What does “to boot” mean, anyway?” There’s a question for your historical research into idioms.

  5. Drinking at dawn……totally ok.
    You did a wonderful job. I always pay for the oarty to be somewhere away froom my home because I cant stand the mess. But the candy table is genius. And bouncy thing….I want that for my 38th bday please and thank you!

    Good job lady!

    • Seriously! My dad was all about morals and social decency and not doing whiskey shots at the breakfast table. So high and mighty, that one. The bouncy house was a huge hit. In reality the kids bounced and climbed and jumped a couple times and they were over it. The adults? Let’s just say we gave that thing back with a few air leaks and grown up foot prints running through it :)

    • You and Sara get ready. You’re totally getting invites next year. I figured you guys might want to poke your eyes out with all the chaos at this party, but if you’re up for it, it. is. on.

  6. I am CRYING with laughter at this entire post!! OMG, it is SO DAMN funny!!! I cannot wait to go check out more of your site! :)
    And yes, we feel your pain with the birthday party business. We have a little post entitled “Double the Friends, Double the Fun, DOUBLE THE SPENDING?!?” where we discuss a birthday party that went a little out of control! ;)

    • That was a huge struggle for me. I tend to go overboard with everything but I’m also super cheap. Thank God for Dollar Tree :) After our massive checkout they should be up and running again in give or take a month!

  7. We celebrate birthdays with lots of FOOD!!!!! We really focus on the kids now as the adults (getting older) really want to forget that extra candle on their cake … fire hazard and all.

    The pictures you posted look so cute and the kids … yeah all they want is a cupcake (sugar high!) … but it’s so sweet when adults go through all the trouble of making it extra special the way you did … I’m sure the headache was well worth it :) In the end … there is an inner-child in all of us …

    • Luckily I am ridiculously cheap, so I went wayyyy overboard with decorations but didn’t spend very much. The husband was worried there for a minute. In the end my son is glad he got to play with his buddies, I’m just glad the boy had a really good day, and the husband’s feeling glad that after the party we can still pay the mortgage :)

  8. I’d happily volunteer for next year, but might fall a bit short. Instead of a drunk 80-year-old sword-swallower, I could be your stoned, 50-year-old sword fumbler. ;)
    On the other hand, all you need is some pipe, a few 12′ long 2x4s, and a pickup without the bed, whose engine still works. Bingo – DIY Ferris Wheel! And when you’re doe with it, you can enter it into next year’s “Punkin Chunkin” contest! :D
    And I can’t really speak to the other face paintings, but that was one DANG pretty kitty! :)

  9. Oh Tori, Tori, Tori. Surely you know the whole point of planning parties for little kids is to impress the OTHER moms? And I know that you did – that party was da bomb! How cute was Pin The Tie on THomas???

    Do you take commissions? I’d like you to plan my upcoming Thanksgiving soiree – I’m going with a dead horse theme.

  10. Goodness, but it’s impossible not to imagine my little guy enjoying such festivities! Well, most of the ones that actually happened, in any case. ;)

    Birthdays are pretty low-key at my house, although I do try to start out family member’s birthdays with a phone call and the birthday song! (Li’l D got one of these calls from his auntie Silver Star a couple months back and wanted to listen to it over and over again.)

    • So cute! I tried to sing Happy Birthday to Thomas that morning when I got him from his nursery. He was waving a little diva hand at me and shaking his head “no, no, no”. I was waiting for him to tell me it was a little pitchy, Dawg.

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  12. What a cool and creative party! You are amazing. We had a bounce house for my son’s 7th bday and it was a huge hit. I remember doing a princess tea party theme for my daughter’s fourth bday, we used my gram’s real china, had tiny pink frosted cupcakes, everyone dressed up in princess gowns and tiaras. I went all out for that party and was exhausted for days afterward. Now what do we do for parties? go bowling. Easy-peasy.

    • Yeahhhhh, everyone was in bed AND asleep by 7 pm that night. We partied hard. We SHUT. IT. DOWN. I’ve still yet to wipe cupcake frosting off of all the floor boards and windows and there are suddenly one million flies in every corner of the house, but I’m still recovering. I don’t have it in me to vaccuum just yet :)

  13. Wow, you went all out on this party (makes me feel a little bad about depriving my kids of cool birthday parties. Only a little bad, though:) Love the face painting – so cute.

    We always did the standard McDonald’s, or Peter Piper. Now that they are a little older and want expensive gifts that we’ll never buy them, I offer them a deal: cash or a “kiddie” birthday party that they can invite their friends to. I just started this a couple years ago, but I haven’t had to fill out a party invite since. We still have a family dinner at a restaurant of their choice, but that’s easy.

    • I definitely got carried away. Good thing for Tom and our bank account I only “splurge” at fine retail establishments like Dollar Tree :) We had fun, but I will definitely skip the crazy crafting/ decor next year. Cupcakes and room to run around: I’m pretty sure that’s all they wanted!

  14. Hey :) I just wanted to tell you I’ve been through almost all of your post and they are perfect! So eloquently written and humorous but so true to life! Your blogs are the highlight of my feed, so thank you you awesome human being!

    • Whaaaaaaat? You are a brave one. Most people read two or three posts and go running scared! My weird sense of humor is definitely not for everybody, so it means a lot that you stick around! Thanks for reading :)

    • Done! I’ll pencil you in. At this point I think I’m doing some Humans Riding Bears themed event for Thoughtsy and (don’t tell her. It’s a total surprise!) an Alcatraz themed even for dear reader Peg.

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